Matthew McHale, an Occupy the Farm spokesman, said the group will not be dissuaded from their efforts. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Matthew McHale, an Occupy the Farm spokesman, said the group will not be dissuaded from their efforts. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Despite four arrests Monday and the destruction by UC Berkeley of seedlings they had planted in rows over the weekend, Occupy the Farm activists returned to a plot of land in Albany that’s slated for development and began their work again Monday night.

“We’re not leaving this land,” said an Occupy the Farm spokeswoman, Lesley Haddock. “We’re going to continue to contest this space. We’re not going away.”

About 60 activists marched together back onto the tract, which is just north of Monroe Street adjacent to San Pablo Avenue in Albany on Monday evening. The land is owned by UC Berkeley and slated for development into a grocery store. The activists say the land would be better used as a community farm. Last year they took over a nearby agricultural field and occupied it for several weeks as they farmed the area and held numerous community meetings to promote their cause.

The activists returned to Albany on Saturday and spent the weekend weeding, planting seedlings and camping. Monday morning, UC Berkeley police arrested several people who refused to cede the space after multiple warnings, then plowed under the newly planted crops.

Monday night, the activists regrouped and marched en masse back onto the land, chanting, “Whose farm? Our farm!” to start over. A group of about 20 Albany residents staged a counter-protest in opposition to Occupy the Farm on the sidewalk next to the field.

Before the march, activists came together in a circle to check in and share their feelings about the occupation thus far. Some said they were frustrated and angry about the university’s decisions Monday morning. Others said it was important to stay focused.

“We’re fighting for all of this, for everyone, forever,” said Effie Rawlings, one of the group’s organizers, as the activists repeated the mantra.

Added Ashoka Finley: “We’re tapping into a movement globally to take back land” that’s being privatized. The group agreed to return to the field over the weekend to continue planting efforts.

UC Professor Miguel Altieri, whose work inspired many of the activists’ activities in Albany last year, joined the group Monday, and spoke about what he sees as the university’s hypocrisy. The university has been working to develop an urban agriculture center on the research land to the north, he said, while at the same time plowing over the activists’ crops and arresting them.

Pancho Ramos-Stierle, an Occupy the Farm supporter, holds starts that survived the UC plow and are ready to be replanted. Photo: Emilie Raguso

A group spokesman, Matthew McHale, said one of Occupy the Farm’s goals is to raise awareness about the importance of local resilience and local food production.

“We need to be going back to the land,” he said. “As many times as they kick us off, we’ll keep coming back again and again.”

UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennett paid a visit to the site Monday night, and said police would continue to monitor the situation and coordinate with other university officials to determine when it was safe to take action to protect the university’s property.

(The land being farmed by the activists is located in University Village, the family housing complex for UC Berkeley. About a thousand families live in the complex.)

Finley and several other activists clashed with the Albany counter-protesters shortly after their arrival, shouting at them and calling them old and out of touch. Other activists taunted the Albany residents, saying they’d eventually run out of food, and have no safety net, when traditional systems break down.

Occupy the Farm activists shouted at Albany residents protesting the group’s activities, calling them old and out of touch. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Occupy the Farm activists shouted at Albany residents protesting the group’s activities, calling them old and out of touch. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The Albany counter-protesters, many of whom rode bikes and carried signs, had several reasons for opposing the group.

“They’re not doing it in a democratic way,” said Barbara Chambers. “They’re being bullies with their rhetoric. It’s like small children throwing their tantrum until they get their way.”

Preston Jordan said the farming group had chosen an unfortunate location for its activities, noting that the San Pablo Avenue corridor has been identified by a regional plan to be targeted for high-density growth to diminish the need to drive.

“Having a farm here will not help in terms of greenhouse pollution,” he said.

Throughout the evening, activists and Albany residents protesting the group had a range of conversations. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Francesco Papalia noted his dismay that the activists were not respecting a community process that has been underway between Cal and the city of Albany for the past five years to come up with a plan for the lots north and south of Monroe.

“There have been a dozen or more meetings. Decisions have been made,” he said. “I haven’t liked all the decisions, but I have to live with them.”

But, as he noted the disgust expressed by some of the activists toward the Albany counter-protest group, he shrugged and said he remembered being in a similar position.

“They’re creating a new paradigm, or they think it’s new,” he said. “They’ve thrown out all the old stuff and they’re starting again.”

Several activists listen during a check-in period before marching back onto the land. Photo: Emilie Raguso
The planting begins again. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Some of the activists take a dinner break and get ready for a strategy meeting. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Activists lounge on a police cruiser during a dinner break. Police moved the vehicle a short time later. Photo: Emilie Raguso

4 arrests, as Cal ends brief Albany occupation [05.13.13]
Urban farmers plan ‘short-form’ Gill Tract occupation [05.10.13]
Cal razes latest Occupy the Farm greens at Gill Tract [11.16.12]
UC Berkeley regains control of Gill Tract from activists [05.14.12]
UC Berkeley police block access to Occupy The Farm [05.09.12]
UC Berkeley sets midnight deadline for Occupy the Farm [05.05.12]
Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? [05.04.12]
UC Berkeley on Occupy the Farm: ‘Time is running out’ [05.03.12]
Occupy the Farm activists issue open letter to community [04.30.12]
University open letter addresses ‘confusion’ on Gill Tract [04.27.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...